Military in Spanish Texas

Texas in the Mexican War

Texas in the Spanish-American War

Texas in Recent Wars
Military in Mexican Texas

Texas in the Civil War

Texas in World War I

Military Museums and Programs in Texas
Texas Revolution and Republic

Indian Wars and Texas

Texas in the Cold War

The Empire of Japan's attack on U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941, motivated the United States to join the Allies' struggle against Japan, Germany and Italy during World War II. Texans responded to the call for troops in great numbers. After four long years of war, Texas had supplied a greater percentage of men and women to the armed forces than any other state with more than 750,000 in uniform.

While thousands fought on foreign battlefields, others played vital roles within Texas' borders. Fair climate, frequent clear skies, bountiful resources and a central location made Texas an ideal setting for wartime facilities. Military posts sprang up statewide to accommodate the constant stream of new recruits, and industrial plants developed rapidly in support of the war effort. As a result, Texas beef, petroleum products, medical supplies, weapons and equipment were used by troops overseas.

A Portrait of Texas in 1940

Before the war, Texas was sparsely populated; there were more people living in New York City at the time than in the entire state of Texas. Most Texans lived on farms or ranches or in small towns, and only about 40 percent had a high school education.  Only one in five owned an automobile, one in ten had access to a telephone and one in six owned a radio. Most women worked at home or on farms. The Great Depression affected the entire population, but particularly the agricultural and petroleum industries that dominated the state’s economy. In short, Texas on the brink of war was mainly agrarian in both employment and attitude, largely insulated from world events and still languishing in 19th-century traditions in such important matters as gender and ethnicity. All that began to change on December 7, 1941.

Impacts of the Military Presence in Texas

During the war, more than 1,500,000 military personnel came to Texas for training. War-related industry lured farmers, small-town residents and others into developing urban centers. Many workers were women, and many were other than Caucasian. Texas quickly became more urban than rural, with a net population growth of 33 percent, and the Great Depression faded into memory.

The military’s presence in Texas grew exponentially during World War II. There were 142 major military installations across the state, and more than 750,000 Texans served in uniform during the war. Some rose to the highest levels of command, including Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Col. Oveta Culp Hobby. Thirty-three Texans earned the Medal of Honor, including Audie Murphy, the army’s most decorated soldier, and Cmdr. Samuel Dealey, the war’s most highly decorated naval officer. Among the Medal of Honor holders were five of Latino descent. Tragically, more than 22,000 Texans gave their lives while in service during the war.

Changes after the War

Despite the horrific human toll, the war brought lasting progress to the Lone Star state. Civilians on the home front played a huge part in attaining victory; scrap metal drives, war bond campaigns and rationing all contributed to the war effort. Manufacturing increased fourfold, the permanent population increased, and the urbanization and modernization of Texas were well underway. Many military installations closed at the end of the war, and some wartime boomtowns were all but abandoned. Because of World War II, the face of Texas changed forever.

The Texas in World War II Initiative

The Texas Historical Commission’s (THC) Texas in World War II initiative was a multi-year statewide effort to honor the role of Texas during the Second World War. The THC launched the initiative on September 2, 2005, at the Texas State Capitol in Austin. The grant-funded initiative was composed of various components that include: Vignettes of Wartime Texas (a special series of 21 historical markers); a heritage tourism travel brochure; a comprehensive statewide survey of more than 1,700 World War II military and home front sites; a series of 55 regional oral history training workshops entitled, Here and There: Recollections of Texas in World War II; and enhancement and expansion of the THC’s Texas in World War II webpages. While the Initiative in some cases covered topics such as overseas service, the focus of the project was on sites and stories in Texas.

Japanese, German, and Italian American Enemy Alien Internment

Efforts to research and share the stories of those confined at Enemy Alien Internment camps in Texas continued beyond the larger World War II Initiative. Shocked by the December 7, 1941, Empire of Japan attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii that propelled the United States into World War II, one U.S. government response to the war (1941-1945) began in early 1942 with the incarceration of thousands of Japanese Americans on the West Coast and the territory of Hawaii. Approximately 120,000 Issei (first generation, Japanese immigrants) and Nisei (second generation, U.S. citizens) from the U.S. West Coast were incarcerated in War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps across the country--based on Executive Order 9066 (Feb. 19, 1942). Through separate confinement programs to the WRA, thousands of Japanese, German, and Italian citizens in the U.S. (and in many cases, their U.S. citizen relatives), classified as Enemy Aliens, were detained by the Department of Justice (DOJ) through its Alien Enemy Control Unit and, in Latin America, by the Department of State’s Special War Problems Division. Additionally, the U.S. Army held enemy aliens across the U.S. wherever the number of apprehensions was too few for the Immigration and Naturalization Service to operate a detention facility.

These “West Coast” internees shared a common loss of freedom with the thousands of Japanese, German, and Italian Enemy Aliens and their U.S. relatives detained in DOJ camps through the Alien Enemy Control Unit Program. The DOJ, through the Federal Bureau of Investigations, began to target suspect Enemy Aliens in the U.S. as early as the night of December 7, 1941. Both legal resident aliens and naturalized citizens who were suspect were targeted [alongside enemy aliens], as were their families.

Within days of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the DOJ took into custody several thousand Axis nationals (during World War II, the Axis Nations consisted chiefly of Germany, Japan, and Italy). Although not legally administered in each case, and often spurred by prejudices, the action was intended to assure the American public that its government was taking firm steps to look after the internal safety of the nation.

Early in 1942, the DOJ established a bi-level organization, which handled the individual cases of aliens enemies: The Alien Enemy Control Unit in Washington, D.C. and through Alien Enemy Hearing Boards with branches located in each of the federal judicial districts of the United States (in Texas boards were held in Houston, Dallas, El Paso, and San Antonio). Each Alien Enemy Hearing Board consisted of three civilian members from the local community, one of whom was an attorney. Representatives of the U.S. Attorney for that district, the INS, and the FBI attended each hearing as well. Alien Enemies taken into custody were brought before an Alien Enemy Hearing Board and were either released, paroled, or interned for the duration of the war. Within a few months, the United States looked toward the possibility of exchanging these Alien Enemies with Japan, Germany, and Italy.

Texas hosted three temporary detention centers for these detainees in Houston, San Antonio, and Laredo; three DOJ Enemy Alien confinement camps administered by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) at Crystal City, Kenedy, and Seagoville, and two U.S. Army “temporary detention stations” at Dodd Field on Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and Fort Bliss in El Paso.

For additional information on the context and history of the camps including images and oral history interviews, see below.